Suspect in 4 New Mexico murders left a trail of violence

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — In the six years since being resettled to the United States from Afghanistan, the prime suspect in the murders of four Muslim men in Albuquerque has been repeatedly arrested for domestic violence and filmed on train of slashing the tires of a woman’s car, according to police and court records.

The long spate of violence – which began shortly after Muhammad Syed’s arrival in the United States – shocked members of the city’s small, tight-knit Muslim community, some of whom knew him from the local mosque and who had initially assumed that the killer was a foreigner with a bias against the Islamic religion. Now they accept the idea that they never really understood man.

“I think based on knowing his story now – and we didn’t know that before – he’s obviously a troubled individual. He obviously has a violent streak,” said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.

Police say Syed, 51, knew his victims and was likely motivated by “interpersonal conflict”.

He was arrested on Monday evening and remains in custody. Prosecutors say he is a dangerous man and plan to ask a judge next week to keep him locked up pending trial on murder charges in connection with two of the shooting deaths. Syed is also the prime suspect in the other two homicides, but police said they would not rush to charge him in those cases as long as he remains in jail and does not pose a threat to the community. The married father of six has denied any involvement in the murders; his defense attorneys declined to comment.

Few details have emerged publicly about Syed’s life before he and his family came to America in 2016, but a US government document obtained by The Associated Press says he graduated from Rehman Baba High School in the west. from Kabul in 1990. Between 2010 and 2012, he worked as a cook for the Al Bashar Jala Construction Company.

In December 2012, Syed fled Afghanistan with his wife and children, the report said. The family traveled to Pakistan, where Syed sought work as a refrigeration technician. A native Pashto speaker who was also fluent in Dari, he was admitted to the United States in 2016 as a refugee.

The following year, according to court records, a boyfriend of Syed’s daughter alleged that Syed, his wife and one of Syed’s sons pulled him out of a car and punched him and on foot before leaving. The boyfriend, who was found with a bloody nose, scratches and bruises, told police he was attacked because Syed, a Sunni Muslim, did not want his daughter to be in a relationship with a Shia .

In 2018, Syed was taken into custody after an argument with his wife over his driving. Syed told police his wife slapped him in the car, but she said he pulled her by the hair, threw her to the ground and walked her for two hours to their destination.

Months later, Syed allegedly beat his wife and attacked one of his sons with a large split metal spoon that left his hair soaked in blood, according to court documents. Syed’s wife told the police that everything was fine. But the son, who called them, told officers that Syed regularly beat him and his mother.

Two of the cases were dismissed after the wife and boyfriend refused to press charges. The third was fired after Syed completed a pretrial intervention program. In 2020, Syed was arrested after allegedly refusing to stop for police after running a traffic light, but that case was also eventually dismissed.

“If you’re trying to figure out how violence evolves in a particular person, you just need to know that they didn’t wake up last year and become a serial killer,” said the former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole. “He experienced violence. And that’s the challenge for law enforcement… to identify what your experience of violence is and when did it start? »

Syed told detectives he served in the Afghan National Army’s Special Operations Command, a small elite group of Afghan soldiers who fought the Taliban. He said he liked the AK-47 type police weapon found in his home because he had used one in Afghanistan.

Yet the US government profile reviewed by the AP mentioned no military experience, and Syed turned 40 the year the elite force was formed in 2011 – likely too old to be selected to fight in the fighting. the most violent.

“That sounds a little sketchy,” said Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, who has served twice in Afghanistan and is a senior researcher and military expert at the Defense Priorities think tank. He said while Syed might be a soldier, “Special Forces guys are usually 22, 25, maybe 30, because it’s very physically demanding.”

The Syed family lives in a small duplex on the south side of town, a working-class area of ​​town where many older homes and apartments have security bars attached to their doors and windows. The area has become a magnet for Afghan refugees and other immigrants seeking to settle in New Mexico’s largest city.

The murders of the four men – the first in November and the other three in quick succession over a period of less than two weeks in July and the first week of August – sparked waves of terror in the Muslim community of Albuquerque which counts about 4,500 people. Residents were afraid to leave their homes — so much so that city officials offered to deliver meals — and some considered leaving town.

That’s what Syed told investigators he was doing when he drove off in his Volkswagen Jetta on Sunday: leaving the state to find a safer place for his frightened family.

Police said he was actually leaving town after killing Naeem Hussain days before.

Syed is the prime suspect – but has not been charged – in the death of Hussain, a 25-year-old Pakistani man who was shot and killed on August 5 in the parking lot of a refugee resettlement agency in the southeast from Albuquerque; and the murder of Muhammad Zahir Ahmadi, a 62-year-old Afghan immigrant who was shot in the head last November behind the market he owned in the city.

Ahmadi is the brother-in-law of the woman whose tires Syed punctured in 2020, while Syed and Hussain had known each other since 2016, police said.

Syed was charged with the murder of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Hussein, 41, was killed on the night of July 26 after parking his car in the usual spot near his home. Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner who had worked on the campaign of a New Mexico congresswoman, was shot dead on the night of August 1 while taking an evening stroll.

While Syed told police he recognized Hussein from the community parties, it was unclear how he knew Afzaal Hussain.

Despite the violence he allegedly inflicted on his wife and children, Syed’s family stands by him.

“My father is not someone who can kill someone” his daughter recently told CNN, who did not reveal his identity to protect his safety. “My father always talked about peace. This is why we are here in the United States. We come from Afghanistan, fighting, shooting.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Watson from San Diego.

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